Micklefield began its life as a girls’ school in Reigate, Surrey, in 1910 and relocated to Seaford 10 years later in a building that had been used as a military hospital in World War 1. The founder, Miss Beatrice Jones, was joined at Seaford by her partner and niece, Miss Carpenter, to run the school.
In 1920 there were 20 boarders (compared to the 280 in 1980), studying a curriculum of scripture, cookery, maths, Latin, French, history, geography and English — sciences only came along in the 1940s. As the picture below shows, the grounds were originally given over to potatoes, rhubarb and other vegetables before the creation of hard courts for tennis and netball. The photograph is taken from the south, with Sutton Avenue just visible behind the school building.
The school motto was “love and serve” and its hymn Jerusalem. The uniform has always been green, a tradition that has been maintained by the nursery — though these days we don’t insist on panama or straw hats!
During World War 2 the boarders were evacuated to Newquay, allowing 100 soldiers to use the site as a transit camp.
The school returned to Seaford in 1945. By 1950 there were 93 boarders and four day girls and a laboratory was installed in 1958. A swimming pool followed in 1970 and the first computer in 1980.
Micklefield was one of many boarding schools in the town and thrived for many years, but closed in 1994. The building’s final years were marred by vandalism and arson attacks — a sad end to a proud history.
The 5.6 acre site was put up for sale but there was little hope of finding a buyer who would maintain a school on the land. Instead, most of the northern two-thirds of the site were eventually redeveloped for residential use.
But happily Micklefield was not swallowed up completely by another housing estate. The playing field was opened up for community use, and the former art block was transformed into the nursery we all know and love today.
Jean McGarrie takes up the story …
In the spring of 1994 as Micklefield School prepared to close, the then playgroup staff, together with an enthusiastic governor, began to plan to retain a nursery on the site.
Micklefield Nursery School opened that September and it was my privilege to take on the leadership. Thirteen years on we have grown, we flourish and we are still evolving and meeting new challenges. We continue to feel the same delight in the school’s achievements as we did then and without a doubt we anticipate and plan for a bright and busy future.
Our beginnings were modest; a Nursery class and the 4+ Class on three mornings a week and a total of five staff. Home cooked lunches were introduced in January 1995 and the following year some afternoon classes were established, eventually including the Dormice introductory sessions. All the while a very close eye had to be kept on the finances and on the predicted intake for several terms ahead. There was a great deal of managing on a shoestring!
Above: the sales particulars of 1994. The running track occupies the space now utilised as a public playing field; the building to the north is the swimming pool, originally open air but later covered and heated. The modern structure behind the original building is the hall which opened in 1978 and in the top left-hand corner is the art block now occupied by the nursery.
The old school fields and tennis courts became our adventure playgrounds, people gave us bicycles and scooters and we raced around the enormous, disused school hall in wet weather. While the building remained, we salvaged anything and everything we could that might be of use to us in the future.
Watching the gradual decline of the deserted building was sad for those of us who had been involved in the school community; stripped and derelict, it was a daily reminder of the busy school life so recently ended. Finally, two fires followed by the demolition team cleared the site, new houses appeared through the rubble and undergrowth and our school railings enclosed the nursery grounds.
Traditions began: we had already established our jade coloured uniform, the summer tea party began as an occasion to say goodbye and thank you to the families who had given us such spirited support during that first year and the art prizes awarded each summer continue a long standing Micklefield School custom. We love our jolly Christmas carol singing each year, always for a charity close to our hearts, and working on our vegetable garden provides the children with a valuable growing and harvesting experience. Micklefield raspberry jam is second to none!
From the beginning we have established solid foundations and clear objectives. Our loyal staff have always worked for the highest standards and we have been and are totally committed to delivering the very best care to the children of families entrusting us with their first school experience. We hope our little school will always resound with laughter and song as we lay the foundations for an excitement and joy in learning to last throughout school lives.
In recent times Ann Merritt and I have added a new dimension to our 26 years of Micklefield life together; we have had the delightful experience of meeting again some of our earliest playgroup children as they return with their own young ones. May we continue to prosper!